AUSTIN, Texas -- Whole Foods Market here said ongoing consumer interest in natural foods helped propel sales and earnings for the year and fourth quarter ended Sept. 27. Net income for the year rose 70.4% to $45.4 million, while sales were up 24% to $1.4 billion. The company said comparable store sales rose 11% and identical store sales, excluding relocations, increased 10.5%.
$11.1 million, while sales rose 21% to $326.2 million and comparable store sales increased 8.5%; the company did not release an identical store sales figure for the quarter.
The company also disclosed that Michael Besancon would become president of the Whole Foods' Mid-Atlantic region, effective Jan. 1. He will succeed Chris Hitt, who will take over as corporate president when Peter Roy retires, as previously announced. Besancon is currently vice president of Whole Foods' Southern Pacific region. No successor was named to that post.
A conference call with securities analysts to discuss year-end results elicited the following highlights:
* Capital expenditures will rise to $130-150 million in fiscal 1999 from $100 million this year, Mackey said. Next year's total will include a $30-million investment in a new 381,000-square-foot distribution center in Thornton, Colo., for Amrion vitamins and supplements and Allegro coffee.
According to Mackey, Whole Foods expects to open 10 new stores in fiscal 1999, with most due in the second half of the year, resulting in sales growth of 11-14% and earnings growth of 18-22%; and 15-20 new stores in fiscal 2000, resulting in increases of 20-25% in top and bottom line growth that year.
He said the company's expansion targets in 2000 include Denver and Santa Fe, N.M., both new territories for the chain.
* Whole Foods' average ticket sale during the fourth quarter was $23, up about 4% from the prior year, Glenda Flanagan, chief financial officer, said. However, among customers with loyalty cards -- which are being tested at 23 stores in the Mid-Atlantic and Chicago areas -- the average transaction is more than $38, Mackey said. He said the loyalty card will be rolled out to other divisions over the next 18-24 months.
* Comparable store sales are running at 6% during the current quarter -- "the toughest quarter for comparisons," Mackey said, because of comps of 14.4% in last year's first quarter following weak comparisons in the prior year, when the company was integrating Mrs. Gooch's in southern Calfiornia. However, the current comps are in line with the company's historic average of 6-9%, he pointed out.
* Whole Foods has signed an exclusive multiyear licensing agreement with Jamba Juice, San Francisco.